Home health aides — who make up the fastest-growing profession in America — rallied at the Labor Department on Tuesday to insist that the Obama administration finalize long-awaited rules ensuring a minimum wage and overtime for those working in the industry.
“Every day we don’t have these rules finalized, workers are suffering,” said Ai-Jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, in an interview with The Hill. “It’s outrageous that you can work so hard — full time — and still be living in poverty.”
Home care aides swap out patients’ bed pans, tend to wounds, and help them carry out basic functions of day-to-day life. But a loophole in labor protection laws bars them from receiving a minimum wage and overtime benefits. As a result, full-time home health aides only earn $9.70 per hour on average, or $20,000 per year. That’s less than the mean compensation for food servers and dry cleaners.
The Obama administration has long promised to issue labor regulations to change that dynamic. But progress has been slow, and industry officials have mounted an aggressive campaign to shutter the effort. Spokespeople for the home care sector claim that they can’t afford to pay their workers overtime or a minimum wage due to the low reimbursement rates they receive from public entitlements like Medicaid.
Home health workers counter that the status quo is cruel and unsustainable. Many of these caregivers have to forgo their own health care in service of their patients, and their earnings are so low that 55 percent of all home health aides rely on public assistance like Medicaid and food stamps to support their families.
The administration doesn’t have much time to address the workers’ concerns. Obamacare is a major reason that the home health industry is booming, since home health workers are essential foot soldiers in moving American medical care towards a more efficient and community-based model. Jobs in this sectors are expected to grow well into the future as the health law goes into effect and baby boomers retire; without a minimum wage or overtime, that means a steadily growing class of underpaid workers caring for America’s most vulnerable.